Surfing seems to have been around forever. 12th Century cave paintings found in Polynesia showed people riding on waves (probably to have a good old fish rather than tube ride, but still), and over the years sea travellers took the idea to Hawaii, where it morphed not only into a sport, but into a way of life, a religion. Today, around 35 million people surf worldwide and it is an iconic, internationally recognised sport, with both professionals and beginner surfers travelling all over the world to find the best waves. Well, I can tell you right now that you don’t need to travel all over the world; wax up your board, grab your wetsuit (better make it a thick one) and look no further than the UK. With nearly 8,000 miles of coastline, we are home to some absolutely legendary surf spots, from Cornwall in the south of England all the way up to Caithness in the very north of Scotland, and on a good day, the waves are as awesome as any you might find in surf hotspots around the world. To catch the best waves you need to be up early, so what better than to camp as close to the beach as humanly possible, ideally a pitch so close you can spot the wave and be on the water in minutes. It's not always feasible to be literally beachside, but these campsites are all pretty close to some of the best surfing beaches in the UK...
Sennen Cove is less than a mile from the rocky headland of Land's End at the Southern tip of Cornwall. The beach here is called Whitesands Bay (the clue is in the name, it's gorgeous) with glistening crystal clear waters and long stretches of golden sand, backed by grassy dunes. The large crescent of sandy beach is open to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, making it - reputedly - one of the consistently best places to surf in the UK. It's a very popular spot with both families and hardened surfers but manages to remain unspoiled and relaxed. There are lifeguards on duty in the summer months and surf lessons and wetsuit and board hire on offer. Nothing is built up around here so camping right on the beach is not possible, but Trevedra Farm campsite is pretty darn close and is a lovely family-run site with stunning sea views and you can walk to both Gwynver Beach and the neigbouring Sennen Cove from there. This pretty campsite has lots of pitches, excellent facilities for a hot shower at the end of the day, and a great cafe - the Ocean Blue - if you are too surf-weary to fire up the barbeque.
There is nowhere more lovely than the coastline of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and Newgale - a Blue Flag award-winning beach, stretching out for 2 golden sandy miles - is one of the most accessible in the county. The beach is south-west facing, open to the Atlantic winds, and has swells with consistently good "large" surf, suitable for all levels. Beginners should stick to low tide because at high-tide the waves break over the pebbles at the top of the beach and this can be a little more challenging. As it is an exposed beach it can be windy, so also popular with kitesurfers and windsurfers too. But there's bags of room for everyone. Right in the middle of all the action is Newgale campsite, boasting a stunning beachfront location and adjacent to the Pembrokeshire coastal path. You couldn't be closer to the surf if you tried; check out the waves over breakfast and if you see a good set coming you can be on the water in minutes.
I feel like I should shout "This is the Big One" in a loud booming voice. Thurso East in Caithness in the very north of Scotland has undoubtedly some of the best waves in Europe. It is a spot for confident surfers for sure; the water is nippy, the surf is big and the waves break over a flat rock shelf. Gnarly. Thurso is on the Pro Surf Tour and National Championships are held here, so it's also a good place to watch if you're not too keen on lunging into the waters yourself. It's gorgeous scenery too; rugged and wild with views out over to the Orkney Islands on a clear day and plenty of wildlife to spot in the sea if there are no surfers to watch. Thurso Bay Caravan and Camping Park is a good place to camp out, with picturesque views across the bay and only a 200 metre stroll down to Thurso beach. There are plenty of pitches, a good facilities block and it is close to all the shops and amenities in town.
A hugely cool surf vibe down at Watergate Bay on the West Cornish coast, which has attracted lots of rather snazzy cafes (I'm not dissing them, I love a smashed avocado), laid back bars, and excellent surf shops, which all make for a pretty busy beach - especially in the summertime. Watergate Bay is a stop on the UK Pro Surf Tour and hosts the English National Surfing Championships every year. It is a long old stretch of sand at low tide, shrinking dramatically at high tide, but everyone is in the water anyway - either surfing big waves or bodyboarding in the shallower waters - so it doesn't matter. We stayed at an absolutely lovely campsite up on the hill called The View at Watergate Bay, with everything you can possibly want; a cafe, good showers, happy campers and panoramic views out over the Bay. Sling your board on your shoulder and hike through pretty fields and along the cliff-top path to get to the beach, or if you don't want to walk there is a car park by the beach, but this does get quite full in summer months. A lovely place.
If Point Break had been filmed in England, (which dammit it should have been), I am going to take a punt that Boadhi, Keanu and the whole gang - including Warchild - would be hanging around the breakers in the sea at Croyde. Croyde beach in Devon has been at the epicentre for surfing in the UK for generations and attracts a cool surfing crowd from all over the world, with west-facing beach breaks and low tide barrels creating the perfect waves, especially at low tide. Ocean Pitch campsite is beachside, relaxed and fun, and is the perfect place to set up camp and watch the waves roll in. They have an affiliated surf school - Surfing Croyde Bay - and a hire shop on site where you can get everything from a wetsuit to a variety of surfboards, which makes life very straightforward indeed. Ocean Pitch is also home to a top snack shack - Biffen's kitchen - serving up some of the best grub in Croyde, so no need really to venture anywhere else.
Rhossili Bay in Wales has the best surfing on the Gower Peninsula and is popular with everyone from professional surfers - who love the big swells coming in from the Atlantic - to complete beginners who can take full advantage of the safety of the long beach. And it is long....about 5 miles to be precise; 5 miles of sandy goodness, which makes falling off into the swirling foamy waves a lot less stressful. Down in the Bay, there are surf schools, surfboard hire and places to get snacks and the car park is a 200 metre walk down to the beach. Hillend Camping is as close as you can get to the beach without being on it, with nearly 300 pitches in absolute prime position, right behind the sand dunes of Rhossili Bay. There are good shower facilities here, an onsite shop and a cafe, and the Welsh Surfing Federation operates out of the campsite, so you can organise lessons with board and wetsuit hire if you wish. This is the Welsh coast at its very finest.
Robin Hoods Bay in the North York Moors National Park doesn't have the year-round surf that some of the Cornish and Devon surf spots have, but if you go at the right time (winter and spring are the optimal seasons), the exposed reef break produces some pretty reliable surf. You also might be able to catch some waves up the road at Whitby or down at Scarborough depending on the right wind direction. There are campsites aplenty down this stretch of the Yorkshire Coast, but Bayness Farm Campsite, set on a hillside on the northwest side of Robin Hoods Bay has stunning views across the sea and countryside beyond and is a short drive (or 30 minute downhill walk) to the beach. It's a relaxed site, suitable for tents, campervans and caravans, and has good facilities and access to shops and pubs.
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